(CNS) – Members of the two largest unions representing movie and television actors, broadcasters and an array of performers voted overwhelmingly to join forces, officials from the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists announced today.
A total of 86 percent of the 37,500 AFTRA members who cast ballots approved the merger with SAG, while 82 percent of the 55,000 SAG members who voted were behind the deal.
The merger needed 60 percent of the vote to pass.
“The merger of SAG and AFTRA is approved,” SAG President Ken Howard bellowed at a news conference that was streamed live on the Internet, drawing cheers from the union members and officials in attendance.
Some in the audience jokingly began singing, “We have overcome.”
“This is the day we have decisively chosen a path of unity and strength,” Howard said. “This is the culmination of years of work.”
Roberta Reardon, president of AFTRA, hailed the work of negotiators from both unions leading to the joining of forces.
“It is the culmination of two years of dedication, perseverance and lots of just plain hard work,” she said. “Our collective memberships joined in this historic effort and today we finally stand together, united as one.”
She said the combined union will be better equipped to handle the evolving nature of the entertainment industry.
“This new union will give us the voice and the presence we will need to protect and strengthen our existing contracts in current media and to establish and grow our presence in emerging areas of work so we can bring all of this under SAG AFTRA contracts not just here in Los Angeles, not just in New York, but in every area of this country,” she said.
The new union will be known simply as SAG AFTRA.
Discussions about a possible merger of the unions began in April 2010, although formal negotiations did not start until until last summer.
SAG is the nation’s largest labor union representing actors, with more than 125,000 members working in films, television programs, commercials, video games and in online and new-media programming. AFTRA has 70,000 members, including actors, broadcasters, singers, dancers, announcers, comedians, disc jockeys and other performers.
Both unions are headquartered in Los Angeles.
Some members of SAG — including Martin Sheen, Ed Asner and Valerie Harper — filed a lawsuit in federal court trying to block the proposed merger, claiming the union failed to conduct an in-depth study of the effects a merger would have on SAG members’ pension and health benefits.
On Wednesday, however, U.S. District Judge James Otero rejected the challenge, declining to issue an injunction halting the union balloting.
“Voting in favor of merger may or may not be in the best interest of the majority of union members,” Otero wrote. “But the decision, for better or worse, belongs to the members, not to plaintiffs and certainly not to the court.”
Howard said the combined union will give actors and other performers an unprecedented voice — and bargaining power.